Four months before the election, polls show Obama slightly leading Romney nationally and in several states that are critical in the quest for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the Nov. 6 election. The race is close despite a topsy-turvy June that included the Supreme Court's decision to uphold Obama's health-care law and its split decision on Arizona's 2010 immigration law.
The president's trip kicks off a new phase of his reelection campaign as he ratchets up his retail campaigning this summer before the September convention in Charlotte, N.C. Underscoring the stakes, Obama is forgoing his traditional summer vacation to Martha's Vineyard, Mass., to focus on the campaign, though he spent a long weekend at the Camp David presidential retreat.
Romney, in turn, was spending the entire week relaxing with his family at his lakeside estate in Wolfeboro, N.H., where he has been seen taking his grandchildren for ice cream, jet skiing with his wife, and playing volleyball with his five sons. It's a personal side of him the public has rarely seen during two primary campaigns in which he sometimes came off as awkward and forced, making clear that retail campaigning is not his strong suit.
Obama, conversely, is a charismatic campaigner who tends to easily connect with his audiences and draw energy from voters in diverse venues, from big rallies to roadside diners.
The president's bus tour follows a six-state bus trip by Romney through the Midwest last month that included stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The president's campaign has spent nearly $16 million in television advertising in Ohio through late June while the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA Action has spent about $2.7 million, according to officials who track ad buys. Romney's campaign has spent about $5 million, and a series of GOP-leaning outside groups have spent an additional $8 million, helping the Republican blunt Obama's message.
Obama's itinerary takes him across the northern, manufacturing belt of Ohio that has felt the recession's sting perhaps more acutely than other parts of the state. It includes stops at a museum complex in Maumee, an ice cream social in Sandusky, and an event at a park in Parma, a Cleveland suburb. Friday's schedule includes a stop at an elementary school in Poland, Ohio, followed by a speech at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The region of white, working-class voters will serve as a backdrop for Obama as he works to undercut Romney's key rationale for his candidacy, his nearly three decades in the private sector. Obama's campaign and allied groups have spent weeks raising questions about Romney's time at the head of the private equity firm Bain Capital.